So you want to save rainforests? Maybe even the planet? The good news is you don’t have to go to the Amazon and lay down in front of a bulldozer. You can fight for some long overdue changes right here in our own backyard—New York City.
You might know that… tropical rainforests are the lungs of Earth. They inhale carbon dioxide—the major pollutant causing global warming—and exhale life-replenishing oxygen. Under their lush, green canopies, rainforests house so many amazing life forms that we’ve only identified an estimated 10% of them. And rainforests are nature’s ultimate pharmacy—approximately a quarter of our medicines are derived from tropical plants.
You probably don’t know that… the New York City government is the single largest consumer of tropical hardwoods in North America. The City depletes countless acres of forests and uses the wood for tens of thousands of park benches, for subway track ties, for 12.5 miles of boardwalks, for the decking of South Street Seaport, the pilings and bumpers of the Staten Island Ferry Terminals and the Brooklyn Bridge promenade. The use of these woods doesn’t just destroy the environment and wildlife—if funds murderous cartels, military juntas, forced labor camps and land theft. In February 2008, Mayor Bloomberg called for a 60% reduction in city agencies’ use of rainforest wood by 2020. However, with newly proposed marine transfer stations, miles-long renovations of Hudson River Park and dozens of other projects—none of which are counted in his reduction plan—NYC is actually geared to double its consumption of tropical hardwoods.
Scientists report… that tropical deforestation typically begins when a logging road cracks open the forest for the first time. But we know logging roads aren’t the first step. The process begins here, in places like NYC’s Department of Sanitation and Hudson River Park Trust, when officials demand tropical woods instead of alternatives.
There are alternatives… that NYC can use instead of rainforest wood. For the tracks of the L train lines, Chicago Transit Authority switched to recycled plastic lumber and reported that it will last at least twice as long as tropical timber—thus reducing maintenance costs substantially. After years of work by Rainforest Relief, NYC Parks Department has finally accepted that certain domestic hardwoods last as long as tropical hardwoods: Parks recently ordered $50,000 of sustainable domestic lumber for new benches. A good start, but NYC agencies must do more.